Consultants are often put down by other business professionals, who taunt them with, “You steal your client’s watch and tell them the time,” implying that consultants provide their clients with wisdom they already have. But the facts prove there is no substance in the jibe: the existence of over 700,000 consulting firms that make up a $250 billion industry shows that businesses continue to have faith in their consultants’ solutions.
Consultants solve the most intractable problems of a range of industries and companies. They track down the right data, study it, and suggest and carry out improvements that their clients cannot achieve. Indeed, one could say that “they supply watches where none exist.”
There are three main types of consulting, according to some experts: management consulting, strategy consulting, and technology consulting. According to some others, the main types are management consulting (including strategy, operations; IT, HR, risk, finance, and taxation consulting); corporate consulting; and independent consulting.
Here, we compare technology consulting and management consulting.
Technology consulting involves finding out how technology can improve a business. Can the strategic use of technology take a business closer to its long-term objectives? Or, can existing technology be improved to increase the revenues of an organization or make it more cost-efficient?
A small note here: Some experts warn against using the terms “technology consulting” and “IT consulting” interchangeably. They point out that tech consulting is operational consulting. A tech consultant finds out what is wrong with a process, breaks it down, and determines a new process. IT consultants, on the other hand, build and evaluate systems and provide guidance for sourcing, using, and managing IT resources.
Management consulting covers the functioning of an organization. The question that the consultants ask is, “Are the systems working effectively?” They try to find out what can be done in the short-term or long-term to increase the operational efficiency of an organization. Often, “reduce costs” is part of the solution suggested. Management consultants can make the difference between an organization staying in business or making a strategic exit.
Management consulting can be broken down into a few steps: provide information, make effective diagnosis, recommend solutions, create consensus on solutions, implement changes, facilitate client learning to solve similar problems, and improve organizational effectiveness.
However, these days, tech consulting and management consulting firms aren’t water-tight organizations, with each dealing exclusively with one or the other. As the reach of technology, particularly IT, is increasing, management consultancies are trying to broaden their service offering to include technology consulting, too, often by acquiring tech consulting firms.
Technology consultants may, for example, advise the setting up of a rewards point scheme based on online purchases to improve customer satisfaction/retention. They may suggest to a municipal council to introduce an app by which residents can participate in a drive against littering and help save the funds that the council would have spent on deploying its own officials.
Although the business problems that tech consultants are called upon to help solve may be different—for example, loopholes in a time-tracking device for employees or snags in an ecommerce website—they may use the same or similar processes. Work is repetitive, and the consultant may suffer a burnout, depending in his/her personality.
Junior consultants may do hands-on work such as testing, analytics, development, and some sales; senior consultants may likely lead teams and have more responsibilities of carrying a project forward.
Management consultants may study and point out the deficiencies in the supply chain management of a company, for example. Or they may suggest outsourcing a function such as building maintenance to reduce costs and improve work. Often, management consultants are seen as “PowerPoint people,” which is true in a way, but they interact with senior managers about crucial issues and get to make presentations at the board level.
Not just management consultants, tech consultants also need to make clear and well-scripted presentations suggesting solutions to non-technical people.
Technology consultants require knowledge and skills, but these can be acquired in the initial part of your career and throughout. Training and experience will come in handy. What you need from the word go is a deep interest in your field and the curiosity to keep yourself abreast of developments.
Not all tech pros are cut out to be consultants. Tech pros like to focus on a few projects for a few clients, from setting up systems to implementing and maintaining them. But consultants need to work on various projects in different stages, often for many clients at the same time.
The other cons of the job are dissatisfied clients; delay or default in payment of your fees; and round-the-clock work because of your time and schedule mismanagement.
The pros of the job are much the same as those for other consultant categories: flexibility in your schedule; team environment, if you like it; using your problem-solving skills daily; exposure to a wide range of clients from various industries; and good career growth and earnings.
Management consulting may involve finance, risk management, and human resources, but you will need people skills additionally. Why? Because every task of yours may involve spotting deficiencies and finding the people and systems responsible. You would have to communicate well with your client’s managers and other employees so that you don’t come across as being unfair or unjust.
Travel all week is a routine affair for both technology consultants and management consultants. Also, you may not even get a whiff of the freedom to choose your projects or teams. You will work on what you have, and work along with the team allotted to you.
Among the other cons of management consulting are constant pressure to deliver solutions within specific time-frames; lack of leisure or your own “down time” at least in the initial years; and lack of encouragement to individuality (for example, a dress code that does not allow you to wear what you like).
But, before you start shaking your head, there are some pros, too (some of them shared with tech consulting): you will earn more if your solutions make a positive impact on your clients’ business; you can develop a great network; you are always learning something new; and you can manage work-life balance if (a big “if) you do the planning right.
The route to a technology (IT) consultant job is to get a bachelor’s degree in IT, computer science, or a related field, or a master’s in business technology consulting/information systems; gain work experience of one to seven years; and become certified as a professional (in the US). Knowledge of technology, IT systems and networks, communication skills, and ability to work independently bring success.
As with all consulting jobs, entry is tough because of stiff competition, but positions with big companies and technology giants are available. Big technology consultancy firms, including Accenture, and companies such as Capgemini offer avenues.
For management consultants, professional services giants such as Ernst & Young, Deloitte, PwC, and KPMG are dream job-destinations. But any role is difficult to bag.
A bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting, business, finance, marketing, or management is required, as is work experience of at least two years and, in the US, professional certification. Good communication, interpersonal, analytical, and critical-thinking skills are a must, along with time management and organizational skills.
As a technology consultant, you can attribute a linear relationship between your expertise in your field and your career progress. The higher you go the less you will be asked to do day-to-day work and will instead be given responsibility of staffing logistics, budgeting, financing, and sales, and generally be a sort of guide.
However, this may not work in management consulting, where a consultant is evaluated based on his/her impact on a client or business. Evaluations may be subjective, and so will be the decisions regarding your elevation to a bigger role or project.
The annual average salary of a technology consultant is about $75,000 (salary range $55,000-$105,000, depending on the city, experience, skill, and employer), according to Payscale.
The annual average salary of a management consultant is about $85,000 (salary range $57,000-$141,000, depending on the city, experience, skill, and employer), according to Payscale (also see link at Ref. No. 15, below).
If you are into technology consulting and plan to switch to management consulting or vice versa, look twice before you leap. If you are in love with technology, management consulting, regardless of the technology content of projects or work involved, may not satisfy the hunger in the geek within you.
To make the shift from technology to management, you may have to work at an intermediate job with tasks similar to those of management consulting or do an MBA. Take up projects that also involve management or use tech to solve a management problem.
If you’re interviewing for a management consultant job, dovetail your CV such that your technical solutions solved a management problem. Don’t forget to show that you’re good dealing with people and departments.
But if you are primarily interested in business, and are interested in how technology contributes to business and how they intersect, then a Big 4 position may be just the thing for you.
A consultant who wants to switch to an industry role may find targeting a higher corporate position easier than another professional, thanks to his/her wider experience.
– Management Consulting Salaries after MBA
– How to get an interview at McKinsey, Bain, BCG
– Investment banking vs management consulting
– Life as a McKinsey Consultant
– Management consulting interview questions
– The dark side of management consulting
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18